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Joan Wallach Scott

The debates on the PaCS in France have occasioned an outpouring of opinion about the nature of families. Particularly vexing has been the question of the status of same-sex couples. For purposes of inheritance and other legal questions, same-sex partnerships may be recognized as “unions” governed by certain contractual arrangements, but the line has been drawn at calling these unions “families” because of the question of children. All manner of expert testimony has been brought to bear on the matter of “lineage” and “kinship,” most of it seeking to prove that there is something either unnatural, culturally deviant, and/or psychologically damaging about children being born to or raised by two parents of the same sex.

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Joan W. Scott

Robert Nye’s elegant essay rightly puts the PaCS, and the debates about it, into a historical context of French natalism. At least since the late nineteenth century, reproduction has been the raison d’être of the married couple and the state has often made fertility synonymous with patriotism. From this has followed all manner of representations, many of them contradictory. Thus although it surely was the case, as Nye shows, that marriage was eroticized and marital love idealized, it was also the case that reproduction and sexual satisfaction were considered separate domains. French bourgeois culture, however idealized its family, has long been associated with the inevitability of extramarital affairs. One of the reasons French commentators found the Monica Lewinsky scandal ridiculous and symptomatic of what they define as American puritanism, was that it contrasted so sharply with their own customs and expectations. Mitterrand’s second family was hardly shocking from that perspective; and judging by films, novels and statistical findings, the desire of men and women can rarely be satisfied within the confines of marriage. Indeed one of the aims of the PaCS was to resolve the tension between laws based on a sentimental view of the family and social practices that had given the lie to these views. The abolition of the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children is an example of this; it recognizes that marriage is no longer enduring and that family arrangements have eroded the grounds on which “legitimacy” was once conferred.

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Symptomatic Politics

The Banning of Islamic Head Scarves in French Public Schools

Joan W. Scott

The events that became known as the affaires de foulard began on 3 October 1989, when three Muslim girls who refused to remove their head scarves were expelled from their middle school in the town of Creil, about thirty miles outside of Paris. The headmaster, Eugène Chenière, claimed he was acting to enforce laïcité––the French version of secularism. According to Chenière, laïcité–– a concept whose meaning would be furiously debated in the months and years that followed––was an inviolable and transparent principle, one of the pillars of republican universalism. The school was the cradle of laïcité, the place where the values of the French republic were nurtured and inculcated. It was, therefore, in the public schools that France had to hold the line against what he later termed “the insidious jihad.”

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Laura Downs, Stéphane Tonnelat and Joan Scott

Laura Downs Simone Weil by Francine du Plessix Gray

Stéphane Tonnelat The Glass State, The Technology of the Spectacle, Paris, 1981-1998 by Annette Fierro

Joan Scott Fausse Route by Elisabeth Badinter

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Kim Knibbe, Brenda Bartelink, Jelle Wiering, Karin B. Neutel, Marian Burchardt and Joan Wallach Scott